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The (im)possibility of development studies

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Development studies is commonly understood to be committed both to a principle of difference (the Third World is different, hence the need for a separate field of studies) and a principle of similarity (it is the job of development policy to make 'them' more like 'us'). This double commitment has led to important challenges to the intellectual standing of the discipline and/or its object of study, development. This paper begins by reviewing five theorems which pronounce the impossibility of development studies. It then offers a more sympathetic account of the field. While recognizing the urgent need for development studies to be critical and at times oppositional, the paper suggests that an allied commitment to public policy-making can be taken as a sign of maturity. Development, and development studies, should be understood as sets of social practices, or technologies of rule, the organization and effects of which need to be (and in key respects are) contested and subjected to political and scholarly review.

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